Our final meeting of the fall semester was mellow. Nothing to read or prepare beforehand. We simply used the first half of the meeting to share the highs and the lows of our experiences teaching online this semester, and then we dedicated the second half to looking ahead at the next semester, specifically on how to design community-oriented and relational activities during early on.
We enjoyed a rich exchange of cool ways to facilitate first week experiences.
Watch an archive of the discussion:
Questions and topics we explore:
Which of your core pedagogical values are expressed in Week 1 activities?
How do your Week 1 activities reach out to and equip
new online students?
new college students?
students of color?
students who might feel intimidated by English coursework?
How do your Week 1 activities introduce students to experiences with skills, concepts, technologies, routines, etc. that are important to your course?
Can you draw a direct line from the experiences your Week 1 activities offer to the outcomes you hope to see performed in your mid- to end-semester assignments?
In our October WritingwithMachines discussion on equity-minded teaching, Jade offered an analogy of a tree to illustrate her approach to “being intrusive, relevant, race-conscious, community-centric, and relational”: first, she designs activities around a solid and reliable trunk that then leads students out onto diverging, pliable branches.
In my attempt to design engaging online courses, I rely on a different but related analogy: first I build narrow corridors that then lead students into wide-open yet enclosed spaces. When I’ve talked with Chad about course design, he offers a balanced abstraction: it is essential to design defined space and it is essential to design space to be explored.
In our November discussion, Tony, Jason, Chad, Jim, Donna, and I explored further analogies, philosophies, and practical approaches that allow us to design interesting spaces where students find compelling reasons to engage–even play–with reading, writing, and thinking.
Watch the archive of the discussion:
Questions we explore:
How do we design our online courses so they are navigable yet surprising?
How do we encourage participation that is compelling and not compulsory?
Topics we discuss:
Defined navigation and instruction | Undefined navigation and instruction
Linear modules | Explorable spaces
Prescriptive assignments | Open assignments
Isolated spaces | Community-centric spaces
Required participation | Provoked participation
Podcasts we reference:
Nicholas A. Holt’s emphasis on play suggests we should increase the dialogic interactivity of our course design and bring students into greater degrees of contact with each other (maybe) and ourselves (definitely).
Laura Gibbs‘ digital storytelling course design sends students into individualized blog spaces initially and then equips them to share, exchange, and collaborate as a group later.
Early in the 2018 fall semester, I invited my colleagues who teach online composition courses at MiraCosta College to collaborate with me in a series of 4 discussions focused on pedagogy and practice. Our first discussion (which sadly, I did not record) focused on the learning experiences we design specifically for the 4th week of the semester, a week when it is important to infuse a little disruptive enthusiasm to encourage and motivate students who are starting to fade a little in the discussions and activities.
During that discussion, my colleagues raised several perennial topics: how to increase retention and foster an inclusive online community, how to re-imagine course design and student experiences with navigation, and how to build more interactive presentations and lectures. While I felt each of these topics deserved their own space to unpack, I initially saw a clear and intriguing intersection with Dr. J. Luke Wood’s keynote address to the 2018 Online Teaching Conference.
So, for our second WritingwithMachines Discussion (archived below), we focused on equity-minded practices. The arc of our discussion followed Dr. Luke Wood’s description of 5 equity-minded practices for reaching, retaining, and supporting underserved students and specifically students of color. After a quick discussion of how “equity” is defined, we responded by sharing what we currently do, what we felt inspired to do differently, and what questions about online course design or assignments are raised by each practice.
Here’s how Jade, Shelli, Jim, and I related each equity-minded practices to our online course design, communication with students, and composition assignments:
As a class this semester, we explored various topics including tools for online teaching, the gamification of online classes, the migration process and modalities, best practices for discussion forums and grading, and even shared lens perspective assignments and approaches to keeping students engaged and learning/reading in the online setting. English Professors, John Warnock, curry mitchell, Jim Sullivan, and Tony Burman, facilitated these discussions, laying the groundwork for future online teaching. After completing this Spring 2016 sequence, I am inspired us to explore synchronous activities and, perhaps, to resuscitate my online avatar (I used a couple years when I was teaching online introductory composition). Most importantly, I discovered I did not have to comment on ALL my students posts and replies. (I am still feeling nervous about the latter one.)
Boy, this week was a doozy! All I could think about was how much set-up an online class requires, and hoping that when I teach my first one I’ll have plenty of time to prepare. Warnock makes it seem simple and straightforward, but when I looked at all the possibilities for cool tools out there, it was nothing like simple. How is one to master even a few of these? And how, as Conrad and Donaldson insist, is one to ensure “all participants have the necessary skill level with the communication tools” used in the course (qtd in Warnock 19)? I guess it means I’ll have to make lots of handy teaching videos like curry, which will require me to have even more mastery of the tools than my students.
In my onsite class, I don’t use a ton of technology. I have been using Canvas for a few semesters and love the ease of setting up the course, the possibilities for altering the look of the class, and the course copy option (which I used very effectively this semester for the first time). I use Speedgrader, and I like the options available for grading. It looks so much cleaner than my handwritten scribbles that students had to decipher, and I like that I can mute the comments and work on all the papers together, giving me freedom to revise my comments. When I’m done grading, I unmute so students can see them. As far as wondering if grading online is effective, I have no guarantee that students are looking at my comments. I could assign a response paper about the comments, but I have yet to do that. I figure if students aren’t doing well and are looking to improve, they will look at the comments (Ha! Fingers crossed). To simplify my online course, I plan to use Canvas’ peer editing tool so students don’t have to learn a separate technology from the one they get from me. Plus, Turnitin’s peermark link we looked at this week was insanely overwhelming and caused many of my brain’s synapses to shut down. On the plus side, it made me really appreciate curry’s video on using Canvas’ PeerReview as a much more effective way for students to learn the system. That is, until I started thinking that I would have to make my own video for my own students, and down the rabbit-hole of worry I went: how will I ever make a video like this? I know how to log in as my student self, but that’s the extent of it. How will I get a sample paper to open? How will I assign that person as my student-self’s peer? Okay, deep breaths…
In my f2f classroom I use Google docs to collaboratively add to summaries of difficult texts, quote notes and other items that students can access at home through Canvas. The Google docs info link provided in this week’s bibliography reminded me of two other features that appeal to me: presentation sign-ups and student groups’ chat option alongside the groups’ shared document. Those are two items I haven’t taken advantage of yet, and I plan to implement immediately in my onsite course! I think Google docs could also be used like a big open discussion board, where students can workshop thesis statements or add information about the readings. And there might be some visual appeal to having everyone in one document rather than everyone’s separate threads/posts in a discussion board.
For online class lessons, I’m comfortable with Powerpoint and Prezi for info-heavy material. I appreciate curry’s notion of Prezi as “interactive, self-pacing, and non-linear,” some traits I think can be effective for our wide range of learners. I haven’t used Prezi much myself, but I like the way the presentations look, apart from making me feel nauseous. I plan to use Screencast-o-matic for mini-lessons showing students how to use an area of our course (like curry has done), or as an addition to a Powerpoint or Prezi. Voice thread was new to me, and seemed cool. I could see starting a discussion of a text this way. I’m just wondering if some of these technologies are tech just to be tech, and not useful enough to warrant using them in a class. I really have to ask myself: does this tool warrant the learning curve? Does it do its job better than anything else? Is it overly complicated? Will we use it often? If any of those answers are “no,” I should probably pass.
I found it interesting/strange that Warnock relied on email for so many of the tasks in his online course. The last thing I want is to have hundreds of emails in my inbox to sort through, and which could very easily get lost in the fray. I’m assuming his heavy reliance on email stems from the book being almost 10 years old. Get revising, Warnock!
Given all the above, Warnock’s “Guideline 9: Don’t be any more complicated technologically than you have to be” (19) is becoming my new motto with the overwhelming amount of information and options this week. If/when I teach online, I’d like to find a few tools to use, mix them up, and use them throughout. I don’t want to overwhelm myself (or my students) with too many programs that all have a learning curve and bugs to work out. My experience with tech is that something always goes wrong with every technology at the beginning. When I first started this online certification, I couldn’t post on wordpress, then saving my screencast to youtube didn’t work, then I couldn’t embed my screencast in wordpress, and so on… Just posting and linking my first blog/video took close to an hour! The more outside websites students have to log in to and get to know is host to at least one student having a problem every time, and I don’t want time taken up with problem solving when I’d rather be teaching.
The technology that supports active reading in digital environments is getting better. Common devices and freely available software make it possible to apply traditional, mindful reading practices to pdfs, digital textbooks, and Open Educational Resources. Still, these high-tech tools are not themselves enough to teach students how to meaningfully engage with text. Along with ever improving technologies and the exciting benefits of OER come a need to maximize the impact of classroom instruction, so students truly benefit from the reading/hearing/playing/watching/swiping they bring to new interactive modalities that are becoming ever more common in higher education.
The following list of resources and annotations seeks to explore:
How to support effective academic reading skills given the range of devices and apps present in our classrooms?
What new forms of effective reading are possible in networked, digital environments?
What digital practices best target comprehension and recall, critical reading and response, and/or active reading and intellectual engagement?
How to promote time management, preparedness, and accountability despite the distractions of digital access?
I have been working with several students who are frustrated with digital reading. Something I have been trying is both hand-written and digital mind-maps to interact with the text. When students mind-map, they slow down, process better, and their visual map of the information matches/ reflects some of their own cognitive processing. This video has some examples of hard copy and digital mapping and a few ways it can be used in a classroom setting. Here is the link to the Coggleit site.
MiraCosta’s Open Educational Lunch Extravaganza
Nicole Finkbeiner from OpenStax, Keynote
Things to Listen to
Assessing the Impact of Open Educational Resources hosted by Bonni Stachowiak of Vanguard University of Southern California with guest C. Edward Watson, the Associate VP for Quality, Advocacy, and LEAP Initiatives with AAC&U. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/assessing-impact-open-educational-resources/
A 30 minute podcast focused on the exciting impact of Open Education Resources on student success. The conversation offers compelling statistics and anecdotes, but it also arrives at one clear drawback stated by students about OER materials: digital content is harder to use than printed texts. Listen to this podcast to get excited about OER, and then explore the resources below that address the need to teach students how to succeed with digital resources.
Igniting Our Imagination in Digital Learning and Pedagogy hosted by Bonni Stachowiak of Vanguard University of Southern California with guest Remi Kalir, Assistant Professor, Information and Learning Technologies at CU Denver. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/igniting-imagination-digital-learning-pedagogy/
A 30 minute podcast that focuses on play as an approach to learning and accessing digital annotation technologies like Hypothes.is. The conversation explores social reading as a mode for professional development for faculty, but also digs at the potential combination of digital annotation with classroom discussion as a powerful means of accessing texts.
Most of us who teach in reading-heavy disciplines have, ourselves, developed effective reading habits that combine highlighting, post-it notes, dog-eared pages, marked moments, coffee stained favorites, and kinetic flipping-across-pages with one’s own hands instead of clicks. O’Donnell’s source offers analog (nostalgic?) touch-stones that we might start to imagine transporting into digital environments.
Recommended by Megen O’Donnel
Welcome to the Post Text World. Multiple contributors: Farhad Manjoo, John Yuyi, Nellie Bowles, Mike Issac, Claire Cain Miller, Sapna Maheshwari, Amanda Hess. The New York Times, 14 February 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/09/technology/the-rise-of-a-visual-internet.html
A mash-up of articles exploring current multi-modal mediums. While some articles offer angst, others, describe empowering modalities. The central question that threads these articles asks how traditional media consumption habits and routines will necessarily change. For us, that question might be: what shifts in classroom instruction should we adopt to facilitate more effective reading/playing/watching/listening/swiping?
An interactive tutorial. Bonilla weighs the pros and cons of using eReaders, focusing on the preferences, behaviors, and outcome goals a student or instructor might bring to an act of academic reading. This is a great source to start encounter early, to weigh the value of eReaders yourself.
Most of the devices and programs discussed here are outdated, but the theory that underpin this study still ignites the pedagogical imagination on fire. In fact, some of the tools linked at the bottom of this bibliography seem to have caught up with Wolfe’s ambition. This is definitely worth skimming to gain a framework for thinking about current technologies and programs.
A one year study of first year college students who were taught “think-aloud” strategies–screen-casting while reading and responding out-loud–as a means to actively read digital texts. The video-audio think-alouds allow insight into “the cognitive and affective processes” students employ while reading in digital environments when their goal is to write a source-based paper. What’s interesting: many of these students demonstrate they are reading at the sentence-level opposed to the level of concepts or ideas when reading on screens. This article essentially calls for instruction supporting “reading strategies specific to digital environments.”
A survey of tools and classroom activites that promote collaborative exploration of sources. This is a great source to pair with your own exploration of Perusall (linked below under Things to Try), which will also be demoed in our Zoom discussion.
Recommended by Rob Bond
Writing in Online Courses edited by Phoebe Jackson and Christopher Weaver. Myers Education Press, 2018.
This article motivated me to read Proust and the Squid (also another great reading resource) and think about how our brains are structured and that relationship to the act of reading. What I like about this New Yorker article is how it discusses what digital reading seems to do to us. When we digitally read we skim and scan, we flit through other content, and we exhaust faster than reading with a physical text we can hold in our hands. From a double consciousness perspective as both a teacher online and in f2f classrooms and as a coach doing writing center work, this article reveals the struggles our students face reading in the digital age. But this article can also be a jumping off point to possible inform how you will teach digital reading techniques and strategies in an f2f or online writing class.
Recommended by Anne Fleming
Things to Try
Google Play, iBooks, The Kindle app, The Canvas app…and other eReader apps
Common devices that most students bring to class everyday are equipped already with tools that facilitate close reading, highlighting, annotation, quick searches, and more. The benefit: every student can access a digital resource in class immediately. The detriment: instruction on how to use these annotation tools must differentiate because every device and software tool is just slightly different from student to student. The article above offers a nice overview: a starting place to develop a for-all-devices lesson on effective digital reading and annotation.
Jeremy Dean is the creator of Hypothes.is, an annotation program, but this isn’t an ad. They discuss the definition of annotating, different programs for doing it, and detailed ways to use it with students.
This article has been uploaded into Perusall, a collaborative annotation tool that can be added to a Canvas course. You can explore Perusall and annotate the above article on annotation using Perusall by first joining our WritingwithMachines course or you can enjoy a demonstration of this tool by Lisa Lane during our Zoom meeting on March 8th from 7:00-8:00 pm.
I am looking for the third thing. It’s the transition quest. Going online and looking for your on-the-ground class is a fool’s errand. Leaving behind everything that worked face-to-face is foolish. So — the third thing. It’s not a marriage or an offspring or an evolution. In my experience teaching online, it’s something that hasn’t yet been built.
My ideas are still steeping. However, I want to develop a classroom online that has qualities like a one-click environment, which is one where a single click will take a student where he or she needs to go; a human environment, which is one where students can see and hear the human in their peers and professor (This would require better integration of audio and video.); and an all-inclusive environment, which is one that does not limit participation or create unnecessary hierarchies of learning through the overuse of fixed synchronous participation. My course currently is, and for the near-future will remain, a module-based course. The emphasis in my course will be reading, research, and writing, so tools that facilitate development of these skills will be prominent, like forums that allow discussion of the reading and collaboration through writing workshops. I would hope, if well built, students will want to be present and that they will be able to present.
My dream online course consists of three core principles: communication, engagement, and risk-taking.
Communication is obviously key to any class, but with the absence of a F2F setting, I want to do everything in my power to amp up the discussion in the online classroom. I was thinking of ways to enhance online communication over the last few weeks and I thought of how I could scaffold the discussion. Essentially, I would try to break down the online communication in a way that mirrors my F2F class. First, I would ask a smaller group of students to have a discussion (perhaps via Google Docs or Zoom). After the small group discussion, I would ask students to write an individual post expanding on an interesting point from their group. After the individual posts, I would ask students to respond to a different person’s response outside of their original group. This scaffolding would ideally build stronger conversations throughout.
When it comes to engagement, what I see being the “best” would be my presence. Since I will not be meeting with the students F2F, I want to make sure that my students view me as being available. I would hold virtual office hours (much like some of you already do), which could possibly turn into a larger group discussion if multiple students show up. I would also build in multiple opportunities to students to get feedback from me prior to a due date. The main thing here is making sure my students see my engagement and realize that the online course is the same as a F2F course in terms of my investment.
My dream course is also one built on risks. I, as an instructor, need to take more risks when it comes to relying on technology. I need to become more familiar with tools like screencast-o-matic, Zoom, and just get used to recording myself. I also would want to attempt to do some video feedback in lieu of one-on-one conferences. Becoming more familiar with these items will most likely help me in my F2F classes as well. I also want my students to take risks in my online course. I would like them to work in alternative mediums such as a mag or another digital platform. I feel like incorporating new, exciting mediums into the writing class could also help the engagement of my course.
Overall, I am leaving with this semester with some wonderful ideas and I look forward to attempting them.
First of all, I want to apologize for the lateness of this blog post.
The assigned readings for this week were fascinating. I used to be a Luddite in terms of using technology in the classroom because I was concerned with access issues amongst students, and I preferred keeping the majority class in the analog world. I would use Blackboard for only the essential things (announcements/essay submissions/etc.), but I tried to keep the course grounded in the physical classroom. Over the past year or so, and in response to this learning community, I have started to place more faith in the digital sphere. The shift to Canvas also helped facilitate this change. While reading through these articles, I picked out multiple points that I either need to think about, or points I thought about when making the shift.
The CCCC points out that a “proactive approach to physical and pedagogical access is superior to one that includes “added on” or retrofitted alternatives.” This point resounds with me because it really does represent how my class as changed over the past year. Whereas the Blackboard course was kind of forced to fit in the class, the redesign with Canvas allowed me to restructure and rethink my utilization of the digital sphere. Canvas is a part of my class, not just a supplement.
I discovered the Canvas app at the beginning of the semester and recommended it to my students with smart phones or tablets. I love that students can easily pull up prompts/texts to follow along, and it is very helpful during office hours when I am not in front of a desktop. This jump into the mobile platform has also made me aware of how I organize my Canvas course as well as how I upload my documents.
I received feedback last semester from a student about the way I organized files online. Based on the feedback, I believe my course has the clear, concise organization that the articles discuss.
There are definitely areas I need to improve on though; I have to admit that I did not do enough education on Canvas as I should have done at the beginning of the semester. I provided links to the Canvas tutorials, but I definitely could have done more to prepare my students. I just found the recorded workshop (Thanks, Jim!) on Canvas and will definitely go over that next semester. I also need to revisit my documents and make sure they are fully accessible.
These readings definitely pointed out a weakness that I never really thought of before. While I try to ensure that all of my students receive the help/accommodations they need in the physical classroom, I need to spend more time making sure my online classroom space does the same.
I, as well, felt a bit befuddled by the scope of the accommodation discussion. There is a lot that needs doing. I am happy to see that I have many successes, according to the best practices we have been introduced to in the reading, in addition to the improvements I am committed to making. I do well with making my course easy to navigate and the information easy to consume for many kinds of readers. I don’t hide information behind a cascade of clicks, I don’t wall it off in ways that might confuse a screen reader, and I label links in descriptive ways. I need to be better at communicating feedback in multiple modalities.
Reading through the first two articles we have been presented with for this week’s thinking, I was reminded, again, of a topic that came up in our last session of Writing with Machines: In the online classroom, everything must be manufactured. One way to consider this is in terms of our online persona. As instructors in a traditional classroom, our persona emits as a function of our presence. We don’t really have to consciously create it. We are who we are. Mannerisms, tone of voice, the way we walk a room, our handwriting — these all communicate something about us. In the online environment, these cues don’t exist, for the most part. If we want to have a personality when teaching online (and all of the literature suggests we do), then we have to manufacture it, quite consciously, in addition to teaching, rather than as a byproduct of teaching. Community was another element that required manufacturing. Whereas in the classroom there are opportunities for community building that just happen because we all inhabit the same space once or twice a week, in the online environment, neither the space nor the inhabiting exist unless they are manufactured by the instructor.
I find this discussion relevant when considering accommodation, as well. In the traditional classroom, there are elements of accommodation that are, in essence, automatic, either through institutional support or the ease with which the accommodation can be met in person. I recall a student I had my first semester as a teacher … er, some number of years ago. She was, essentially, deaf, though she could make out some sounds. She stopped me after class one day and told me that she could do without an interpreter if I would make sure to face the class, rather than the white board, when lecturing. I, at times, like to scribble while I talk. Turns out she was a top-rate lip reader. In the span of time it took to have the conversation, the accommodation had been made. Now, in an online environment, if I post a PowerPoint, for example, with a voice over lecture, I need to manufacture the accommodation by captioning the presentation. And, when I read through the list of effective practices in this week’s reading, I see that, for the most part, accommodation requires manufacturing, and the manufacturing is largely left to the instructor.
Accessibility is a compelling topic. We have moral and legal obligations to meet the accessibility needs of our students, and I believe that, as educators, this is something we are committed to doing. However, the online environment creates both opportunities and perils for students in need of accommodation — and for instructors trying to meet those needs.
Our reading appropriately acknowledges this, and acknowledges the strange situation that most online instructors face when moving from on-the-ground teaching to online: that when they leave the comfort of the classroom, they also leave behind a suite of institutional support for ensuring that students get the accommodations they need. Such inequities exist across numerous forms of needed accommodation in the online environment, and in most cases sorting them out falls to the instructor, where the same wouldn’t be true in a traditional, on campus teaching assignment.